With a greater understanding of the effects of human behavior on health outcomes, healthcare for decades has incorporated prevention strategies into clinical care to reduce the high cost of morbidity and mortality associated with a myriad of behaviors—among them smoking, sun tanning, poor nutrition, and lack of physical activity. Added to this list of preventable behaviors is gun violence, which currently ranks second only to opioid overdose and poisoning as the leading cause of injury deaths in the United States.
Explore This IssueSeptember 2022
Currently, 79% of homicides and 53% of suicides involve a gun. For children, guns are the leading cause of death—over 10,000 people under age 25 were killed by guns in 2020 (Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions. “A Year in Review: 2020 Gun Deaths in the U.S. April 28, 2022. https://publichealth.jhu.edu/sites/default/files/2022-05/2020-gun-deaths-in-the-us-4-28-2022-b.pdf).
Framing the Issue
As with tobacco years ago, framing gun violence as a health issue affecting both individuals and the public can be a hard sell. It took years of research and advocacy to show that the high morbidity and costs of smoking were just too great to prioritize individual rights over public health. The issue for gun violence is complicated with a focus on the Constitutional right to bear arms. In addition, gun violence for many is solely a law enforcement issue that’s dealt with after an injury rather than upstream to prevent it.
Unlike tobacco, however, proving the deleterious effects of gun violence on human health doesn’t take years of research or study; harms are self-evident, and the effects are felt broadly by the victims of gun violence, their families, communities, and the public at large. In terms of cost to the healthcare industry alone, hospital costs to cover care for just the initial gun injury were over $1 billion in 2019, with physician fees adding 20% to the total cost (https://www.gao.gov/products/gao-21-515).
Healthcare organizations and others have pushed for years to address gun violence as a public health issue, if not an outright crisis. The American Medical Association declared gun violence a public health issue in 2016, and since then has regularly advocated for safer gun laws and other policy positions. A number of healthcare organizations and executives have recently weighed in, taking a public stance on an issue they believe directly affects them as professionals and citizens. Among the healthcare executives speaking out about gun violence are the CEOs from The Permanente Medical Group, Northwell Health, and a coalition of 10 CEOs from Minnesota Health systems who are collaborating on solutions. Numerous CEOs of companies with over 500 employees are also getting involved. In 2022, these leaders sent a letter to Congress supporting the treatment of gun violence as a public health issue and detailing its detrimental effects on society, including its high cost of $280 billion per year to taxpayers, employers, and communities (https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/hospital-management-administration/the-healthcare-ceos-putting-their-names-on-the-dotted-line-for-gun-safety.html).